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Environmentalists challenge EPA rule they say will gut coal ash disposal regulations

People near former IPL plan concerned about water
Posted at 1:05 PM, Oct 29, 2018
and last updated 2019-04-24 14:04:07-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Environmental groups are challenging an EPA rule they say will gut coal ash disposal regulations aimed at protecting Indiana citizens living near toxic coal ash waste sites.

RTV6 has reported Indianapolis homeowners and environmental groups are concerned coal ash is contaminating the aquifer underneath the lagoons and may spread to the groundwater, which supplies water to parts of the city including Sunshine Gardens.

The following groups filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals last week-- Hoosier Environmental Council, Earthjustice, The Environmental Integrity Project, and Sierra Club, on behalf of Clean Water Action, Prairie Rivers Network, HEAL Utah, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

"It's clear that former coal lobbyist and current acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has an open door policy when it comes to the coal industry," said Mary Anne Hitt, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. "Coal ash is a dangerous, widespread problem, but instead of safeguarding the public from its devastating effects, Wheeler is once again ignoring the issue in order to placate his former clients. Without strong federal coal ash regulations, polluters will continue to dump their toxic coal ash waste in unlined pits that will continue failing, endangering drinking water and public safety. The courts have already agreed the risks posed by coal ash can no longer be ignored, and that's why we're fighting this most-recent Wheeler roll back."     

With the changes under President Donald Trump, which were finalized in July, power plant owners have more time to clean up leaking coal ash disposal sites and allows state-run coal ash permit programs to use loopholes such as waiving groundwater monitoring requirements under certain circumstances. 

“The Trump EPA is a rogue agency, out of step with both its mission and the law,” said Environmental Integrity Project attorney Abel Russ. “The courts are telling EPA that the coal ash rule is not strong enough, and meanwhile EPA is trying to weaken the rule. It’s absurd. The American people deserve better.”

"It's clear the Trump administration doesn't value protecting human health, especially if corporate special interests could be slightly inconvenienced," said Jennifer Peters, National Water Programs Director for Clean Water Action. "This outrageous scheme would let coal plants put communities, families, and water at risk with impunity. It's time for EPA to listen to the courts and the public and strengthen, not weaken coal ash safeguards."

As RTV6 reported in April, the Hoosier Environmental Council’s Environmental Health Director testified to the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the dangers of coal ash pollution generated by coal-fired power plants.

RELATED | CALL 6: State taking input on coal ash lagoons

Indiana has 15 coal power plants that were regulated under a 2015 EPA rule that is gutted under a current proposal.

“Fifteen Indiana power plants released groundwater monitoring reports last month, and all of them show contamination of the groundwater so that it exceeds either a drinking water standard, health advisory, or tap water screening level,” testified Dr. Indra Frank, the Hoosier Environmental Council's Environmental Health Director in April.

According to the council, of the 15 power plants:

  • 80% have contamination with molybdenum, half of which exceed the molybdenum health advisory by 20-fold or more
  • 80% with sulfate, the highest being 30 times the health advisory
  • 73% with boron,  80% of those exceed the health advisory by 3-fold or more
  • There is also contamination  with lithium, radium, cobalt, arsenic, and cadmium
  • On average, each power plant has 5 contaminants exceeding safe levels

Coal ash waste is often filled with heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium which groups say can raise the risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and can inflict permanent brain damage on children.

Once they’ve received all of the testimony and written comments, the EPA will release a draft revised rule.

The Hoosier Environmental Council pointed to a new reportshowing dangerous levels of coal ash contamination around the state.

IPL's Harding Street plant burned coal up until February 2016, and the byproducts are stored in unlined coal ash lagoons.

Indianapolis Power and Light released a statement in April.

"We continue to follow the procedures laid out by EPA in their Coal Combustion Residuals Rule and are now in the process of validating and reviewing our groundwater monitoring data to better understand the results and determine appropriate next steps," said Claire Dalton, IPL spokeswoman in an email to RTV6.